SPAIN'S annual tourism fair FITUR opened in Madrid yesterday with the industry hoping that 2004 is going to prove to be more successful and less troublesome than 2003. Global tourism suffered a major slump in 2003 as people were put off travelling by the Iraq war, the SARS epidemic and economic weakness, the World Tourism Organisation said yesterday. The number of people making international visits fell 1.2 percent to 694 million in 2003, but there are signs of recovery for the year ahead, according to preliminary data from the intergovernmental organisation with members from 139 countries. “In 2003 international tourism had another difficult year, in which there were three negative factors: the Iraq conflict, SARS and economic weakness,” Francesco Frangialli, World Tourism Organisation secretary-general told reporters in Madrid. But the organisation said analysts were making positive forecasts for 2004 based on economic upturn and fewer geopolitical conflicts.
The group said the industry had proved its resilience in a “thoroughly hostile context” in 2003.
While war in Iraq and the epidemic of the flu-like SARS disease in Asia had hurt tourism, the backdrop improved later in the year and growth figures were positive for the second half. The number of tourists visiting Europe, which has a 57.8 percent share of global tourism, stayed flat on the year before, the organisation said.
In Asia, with a 17.2 percent market share, that number fell 9.3 percent and in the Americas, which have a 16.2 percent share, it fell 2.1 percent.
Africa saw a 5 percent rise and the Middle East enjoyed an increase of 10.3 percent as residents in the region chose to take their holidays closer to home. France remained the world's top tourist destination, followed by Spain, in terms of visitor numbers.
The United States was the top earner from tourism, also followed by Spain. The organisation said international visits in 2002 had risen 2.7 percent to more than 700 million.

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